Interview with Matthew Dexter

Faithful readers,

As part of our publicity boost leading up to our launch party, we’ve begun writing features about past contributors. Below is the first. Matthew Dexter’s “Dr. Fish” was published in mojo 4. Jake Russell’s feature reads as follows.

Dead Cells, Live Writing
by Jake Russell

When it comes to writing, Matthew Dexter would love to say his habit is one of getting up early, waking up sober, bursting with 2,000 brilliant words, and then busting out a first draft of lyrical prose in three minutes flat.

This, of course, is an exaggeration. While his goal is to write 2,000 words daily, his toddler, his addiction to Mexican beer, and his frequent freelance writing and editing jobs don’t always make that possible, he said. This doesn’t even touch on the temptations and pervasive distractions that come with living in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, or, as he calls it, paradise. Nevertheless, a quota is important, especially when it comes to writing novels and memoirs.

“I approach writing as the most important thing in the world,” Dexter said. “When we are gone, the writing will remain, so it’s all that matters.”

Though the phrase “starving artist” has become a cliché, it’s not far-fetched to Dexter’s own life: he spent many days penniless in the United States before moving to Cabo San Lucas nine years ago and wrote five or six unpublished novels that he now feels are “terrible.”

“My son and my writing depend on each other,” he added. “If I die too young and obscure, he will perish in poverty and indeed squalor.”

Some of this pressure comes from Dexter’s refusal to settle for “secular mediocrity”: “Perfection: absolute perfection: the unattainable: ineffable glory of the beautiful written word,” he writes in an email, pointing to “great writing and gifted authors” such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Cheever, Denis Johnson, Raymond Carver, Hunter S. Thompson, Don DeLillo, Jack Kerouac and Edgar Alan Poe.

In Dr. Fish, Dexter’s story accepted to Mojo, he uses the image of Garra rufa — fish that eat the dead flesh off of feet—which he was introduced to at the bungee and canopy company where his wife works. While experimental, it’s based on the death of his maternal grandmother — “my favorite person in the world other than my namesake son” — and tries to capture the regret of “xenophobic draconian” USA immigration policies that prevented Dexter’s family from reuniting with her in the states before she died.

These snapshots are what Dexter sets out to do when he writes.

“I really have no preconceived notions,” he said. “I want my stories to make me feel something. I am seeking perfection, anything that gives me that tingle in my spinal column and makes me high — the best high in the world, though fleeting. I want to laugh or cry or see some beauty. I want the readers to feel some glimpse of what I felt, some residual resin or ash or blood or tears or hash or laughter. Then, the readers and author are telekinetically connected and can make love or wage war in a vacuous blink of four eyes.”

Dexter’s advice to writers who want to get published — “Never quit. Never settle. Work around-the-clock. Do not be afraid to starve penniless or die for your writing and dreams. It is better to die trying than to give in to pressures from family, faculty, friends, or foes. Read everything; study endlessly. Try to stay away from the bad drugs (narcotics, heroin, Oxycontin, etc.) Write every day. Find your voice. Never give up on your dream,


Big thanks to Jake for that interesting portrait of one of our favorite authors. If you’re interested in reading “Dr. Fish,” you can find it below:


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